Monday, May 30, 2011

June-Bugs Open Thread

BEA madness is officially over for another year, and I managed to get out of it with only a scratchy throat rather than the full-fledged flu that usually occurs. Then the long Memorial Day weekend has been full of blissful reading (client manuscripts and - gasp! - an actual book, too!)  Miss Moxie has been napping through most of these recent hot, muggy days, but we did do a quick stroll through the Vanderbilt estate yesterday. (She likes to pretend she is owned by fancy people.)

I know that I will have time tonight and tomorrow to answer questions... and I know I will NOT have time later in the week. SO, I have decided to open the open-thread a bit early this time around. You know the drill:

Regale me with your agentish (or booksellerish) questions. Short answers will go in the comments, long answers may merit a post of their own. 

Annnnd.... ACTION!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Response, No Response, Autoresponse

A peek behind the curtain at the Agency:

Some weeks ago (a month or more, actually) ABLit underwent a server change. Now, that may not mean much to you (it didn't to me, until it happened) - but the repercussions were, well, irritating for us, and for many of you as well. To wit: I didn't get email at all for a couple of days, at least. And once that was fixed, there was still the little matter of Querys.

The Great Autoresponder Crisis of '11.

We realized we had a problem when writers started panicking. They'd write, or just resend queries over and over, or call the agency up, or post mean things about us on message boards, because DID THEIR QUERIES GO THROUGH????  Then came email... after email... after email... to our valiant webmistress and various People Who Know Things About Things. Then more a month or more of MORE emails, where everyone at the agency processed the fact that, apparently, for whatever reason, our new server made our Query Autoresponder null, and impossible to restore.  Sigh. We all went around in circles about WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE AUTORESPONDER.

At a certain point I just wanted the whole thing to go to the devil and start taking paper queries again. Who even needs a computer? But now, thank goodness, sanity has been restored.

When you query me, if you follow submission guidelines and put "query" in the subject line of the email, you should get an email that looks something like this:
This is a confirmation that your email was received.

Because of the high volume of submissions we receive, we are not always able to respond personally to every query. If we are interested in your work, we will follow up with you by email or phone. However, If you haven't heard from us within 6-8 weeks, please assume your work is not a fit for our agency. 

We do understand and appreciate the effort that goes into getting your work out, and we wish we had time to respond personally to all submissions. Unfortunately, this is no longer a business reality.
Thank you for thinking of Andrea Brown Literary Agency in regard to your work. 
I am sharing the contents of this automatic message with you here on the blog so I can make a few points about it. And, because I get questions about it all the time, and I like to be transparent, I'll share with you my method of query-reading, and a bit more on our response policy.

1) This is merely an automatic message. It is in no way a judgment about the quality of the work you have presented. It is not a rejection. It is not anything. There is no need for a response to this.

1b) In fact, if you respond to this, because I have threaded email, your query will move farther away from the front of the line, because I read queries in the order received. (It doesn't matter too much, but just a point of fact.)

2) Because we are, theoretically, a "No Response Means No" agency, a lot of writers get quite distressed, thinking we might not even GET their query, and how would they know? This automatic message seeks to remedy this problem. At least you know that the query got to us.

3) The reality is, we get a crushing amount of email every week. Most of my colleagues adhere strictly to "No Response Means No." And they will probably want to strangle me for saying this (sorry guys). But... I really do try to respond to things, at least with a one-line form rejection, despite the fact that our official policy is "No Response Means No." It is just a personal quirk of mine, I truly hate leaving loose ends.

I read everything myself. EVERYTHING. I do not have a reader for slush. I tend to read things a few days a week, sort them into folders, and then respond all on one day a month. My response time is generally 4-6 weeks or less. However, there have been times where that is just impossible despite my best intentions, and I don't want you to be endlessly on the string... so, yeah. If you haven't heard in 8 weeks, consider it a no. And I do not respond to material that falls outside the scope of what I represent, nor to authors who have failed to follow our (very simple) query guidelines.

Remember: Client reading MUST come first, Slush reading MUST come last. I like you, but you are not a priority... which is, of course, something that my clients appreciate. And you will too, if you become a client.

4) You really don't have to respond to form rejections, either. In fact, it is just more stuff in the query box to wade through, and I'd rather you didn't. I don't need thanks, and I just don't have time for follow-up questions of the "who WOULD like this, then" variety - that is research you should be doing yourself. Though a "thanks" for extensive notes on a full is appreciated, if only so that I know that you got them.

5) If something is good, but not right for the agent you have selected, we will share it with our colleagues. For this reason, a "No" from one of us is a "No" from all of us - even if it is of the "no response" variety. The only exception to this is if you have made a connection to one of us at a conference or similar and we have requested your work -- but if so, please be up-front about your query history at the agency.

I apologize personally for any confusion that this dark period in our email lives has caused. If you have questions, or anything about this is unclear, feel free to ask in comments.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

(Book) Siblings are Good. Twins can be Trouble.

Q: People say when you're researching agents, you should look at the acknowledgements of  books like yours to find out who reps them. But yesterday I saw you tweet that sometimes books are "too similar" and you reject them for that reason. What gives?
Yes. You should find an agent who reps the type of books you write, has similar taste to yours, and seems to "get it." This probably means doing research about some of your favorite writers and finding out who reps them.

But also yes, when you get right down to it, an agents list can really only have so many of one type of book before it starts getting boring and repetitive. And as far as specific plots and such, one will do.  As @earthwards on twitter said, "Think complementary, not competing!" Some for examples:

1) If you look on my sidebar you will see that I have two mermaid books. They are very different. One is contemporary and has to do with the world of Northern California surfing. One is romantic and historical and very much a fantasy-land story. They are not competing with one another. But I also don't need any MORE mermaid stories.

2) Or, to use a made-up example, maybe I have a funny and heartfelt contemporary YA about an Arab-American girl struggling to fit in and get out from under her controlling family. I have tried but so far haven't been able to sell it. I don't need another story about an Arab-American girl struggling to fit in, no matter how good it is, because I haven't been able to sell the one I've already got.

3) Or, let's say I do take on two similar folks.  Illustrator A draws super-cute retro characters with a high-action, cartoony feel. I love his work. I've repped him for two years. He's busy, but always looking for more illustration work.

Illustrator B draws super-cute retro characters with a high-action, cartoony feel. I love her work. I say, what the hell, it is like A's work... but I like it! I'll rep it. She's new, and building her resume.

Editor calls. "I need a cool illustrator who does super-cute retro illustrations with a high-action, cartoony feel. Can you send me samples from your best illustrator who fits the bill?"  But I have two people like that. Who do I send? What if I pick one and the other one finds out they didn't even get considered because I didn't show their work? What if I send both but one of them finds out that they didn't get the job because my other illustrator did? Ew. Not good.

4) OR, Author A writes a comedic paranormal about zombie tapdancers. I love it! So I take it on. I shop it a bunch of places, it gets a whole lot of rejections, and finally I sell it.
Author B writes a comedic paranormal, about zombie ballerinas. I love it! So what the hey, I take it on. Oh but... where do I shop it? I can't sell it to the same publisher that just bought A's book. Nor can I send it to any of the editors who passed on A. I am sure I could find more folks with some footwork, but then what if I sell the book, and the two are published at the same time, by different publishers?

Now Book A and Book B are directly competing with one another. Of course ALL books are competing with one another... but there is no way that these two authors in this scenario will not feel like they are each other's biggest competition.  Every book review will mention the fact that there is another Zombie Dancing book, every publisher will look at the numbers next to each other, and one of them will probably do better than the other. Recriminations fly. Zombie Tapdancer feels like his publisher didn't do enough to sell the book. Zombie Ballerina is angry about all the goodreads reviews that call her a copycat.

I'm the agent, who is meant to take the author's side... but... they are BOTH my author. Awkward. There is really only room for one comedic paranormal Zombie Dancer on the list.

Get it?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wordcount Dracula

Q: My middle grade novel is complete at 250,000 words, and have five sequels planned which will each be approximately the same length. I know that this is considered "long" but I really can't cut anything, it is all integral to the story. What do you think?
Hold that thought, I am tying a noose.

In all seriousness... while this actually happens to be a fake question, I get queries for books this long all the time. And really? The idea of reading 1.5 million words, or even 250k words, makes me feel dead inside. Your story does not need to be this long, I promise you. (If it DOES need to be this long, it is not a middle grade, or it should be divided into 20 books, not 6.)

YES, if you are hugely successful with your first book, your publisher will want lots more books from you. YES, the more successful your books, the longer they will get to be without anyone batting an eyelash (see: Harry Potter series). But no publisher will let you publish a debut novel that needs to be a lengthy series in order to make sense, or a debut children's novel of 200,000+ words. This is the reality.

I am on the record as saying I don't really care about word counts unless they are so off-the wall out of bounds that it is absurd. And it is true. But there are generally accepted norms for this sort of thing that you should be aware of. I've pulled some new and classic examples in each fiction category so you can see how they vary.

PICTURE BOOK:  0-1,300 words. Sweet spot: 300-550*
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak: 336
Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer: 348
Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor: 418
Ladybug Girl by David Soman: 721
* Note: I really advise clients to keep their picture books under 600 words - 800 at the very top. Picture books in the 1,000+ word range are generally folktales and fairy tales... and are not exactly in fashion. Unless you are a really gifted folklorist, I would not go down this road. There are very few such authors in the country. They know who they are.

EARLY READER: 100-2,500 words. Sweet spot: (depends on level)*
Elephant and Piggie: Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems: 199
On the Go with Pirate Pete and Pirate Joe by AE Cannon: 1,180
Dodsworth in London by Tim Egan: 1,293
Little Bear by Else Minarik: 1,630
Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel: 1,727
*Note: Because these books are meant for brand-new readers, these books are often marked according to level - the higher the level, the more sophisticated/longer the text can be. Publishers may have their own specific guidelines about these leveled readers, even requiring a certain number of syllables per page for readability. 

CHAPTER BOOK: 4,000-13,000 words. Sweet spot: 6,000-10,000
Magic Tree House Lions at Lunchtime by Mary Pope Osborne: 5,313
Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park: 6,570
My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett: 7,682
Judy Moody was in a Mood by Megan McDonald: 11,049 

REALISTIC MIDDLE GRADE: 25,000-75,000 words. Sweet spot: 40,000-65,000
Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban: 29,052
Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech: 44,907 
We Dream of Space, Erin Entrada Kelly: 48,000
Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner: 48,454 
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead: 53,669
Front Desk by Kelly Yang: 64,000
Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina: 70,000

FANTASY MIDDLE GRADE: 35,000-90,000 words. Sweet spot: 45,000-75,000
Juliet Dove, Queen of Love by Bruce Coville: 43,912
White Mountains by John Christopher: 44,763
Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander: 46,926
Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo: 65,006
Harry Potter & the Sorceror's Stone by JK Rowling: 77,508 

REALISTIC YA: 40,000-90,000 words*. Sweet spot: 45,000-75,000
Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles: 40,480
Great Call of China by Cynthea Liu: 52,532
Flash Burnout by LK Madigan: 67,186 
Looking for Alaska by John Green: 69,023
Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly: 71,935 

FANTASY YA: 50,000 words to 150,000 words**. Sweet Spot: 65,000-85,000 words.
Magic Under Glass by Jackie Dolamore: 55,787
Tithe by Holly Black: 66,069 
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr: 73,426
Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray: 95,605
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare: 130,949  
Eragon by Christopher Paolini: 157,000

* This is especially true for debuts. Once you are famous, all bets are off.

* * It is really not advisable to go over 100,000 words as a debut author, unless you already have a following. Consider yourself warned - 100k is often the magic number that makes editors and agents curse, cry, and possibly delete. Not that you CAN'T be published over 100k, it definitely happens for select super-awesome YA fantasy in particular... just that it really will be yet another hurdle for you.

In every category, there are also a few random outliers, like Sarah, Plain and Tall (a middle grade at 9,000 words) or This Is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn (a YA at 250,000) ... but for the purposes of this exercise, let's assume that you aren't Patricia MacLachlan or Aidan Chambers.  

ETA: Remember, this list is by no means exhaustive and should not be considered law. Don't get too freaked out about it... just find the average word count for books similar to your own, and try to be somewhere vaguely in the ballpark.

So how can you find these numbers yourself? Well, while the Accelerated Reader program is lame in a lot of ways, this is a very handy tool: To find pretty much any kids / YA word count, you can use the AR BookFinder. (Click 'librarian' or 'teacher' and then search for books like yours - click on the titles to get all kinds of info about them, including wordcount!)

Sunday, May 01, 2011

May Day Open Thread

Happy flowers! Sunshine! Trees! IT'S SPRING!  (actually this pic was taken during a spot of rain - but I like the flowers.)

ANYwhoo, I'm romping outside today, but when I come back I will answer questions on the open thread. If you have inquiries about agentish stuff, publishing, books in general, dogs, or whatever, throw them at me. As always, short answers will be in comments, long answers may warrant their own blog post.

Annnnnd.... GO!